Question | How should we receive the Bible?
Answer | We ought to receive the Bible with readiness, humility, and joy. We should pursue it with delight, allow it to dwell in us richly, and be quick to do what it says.
Scripture | Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Explanation| As special and necessary as the Bible is—and it is—it really won’t do for you or for me what God wants it to do unless we respond to it as He intends. In other words, we have a responsibility to receive the Bible well.
We ought to receive the Bible with readiness, humility, and joy. First things, first. I’ve chosen to use the word ‘ought’ (here, and throughout the other doctrines we’ll be looking at) to reflect what the Bible teaches about our response to these things—that is, we need to respond a certain way. It’s our duty. It’s not optional. Second, think about the word ‘receive.’ What comes to your mind when you hear this word? Two images come to my mind that may be helpful in thinking about our response to the Bible—one is an open hand, as in accepting a gift, the other is an open door, as in welcoming a loved one. We should view the Bible similarly whenever it is given to us, whether we read it for ourselves, or it is read or taught to us by others.1 Third, notice how we should receive the Bible—with readiness, humility, and joy. When we receive something, we might think that we aren’t doing anything at all because we’re not the ones doing the action. While we aren’t the ones giving, we are, however, still very muchdoing something while receiving. And, in this case, our doing is related to our attitude. Let me put it like this. How do you act when someone puts something in your hand that you don’t want? Or, how do you act when someone comes to your door that you don’t like? I’m guessing that you have an attitude in both of these situations, and that your attitude will come out in what you say and do. What I’m saying is that you and I are responsible for our attitudes in receiving. As it relates to the Bible, we have a responsibility to have the right attitude in receiving it. What sort of attitude? We should receive it with readiness.2 Readiness means, of course, that we are ready—or, prepared, even eager and anticipating—to receive the Bible. Being ready means I’m “within earshot,” and my “ears are tuned” to hear. Or, to use a different idea, I’m on the edge of my seat, and I’m not letting anything distract me.3 Further, we should receive it with humility.4 Humility is seeing oneself rightly—not too highly, not too lowly.5 Humbly receiving the Bible means knowing I always need it, while being confident that it will do its work in me as I make use of it. We should also receive the Bible with joy.6 We often think of joy as a synonym for happiness, which we then associate with laughter, smiling, and pleasure. Joy, according to the Bible, may include such things. But, even more, to be joyful means that I cherish the things that matter most, and I then take delight in those same things no matter what I’m going through.7 This is the sort of attitude we should have in receiving the Bible whenever we receive the Bible.
We should pursue it with… The last sentence in our answer above further describes our action in relation to the Bible. Each one of us has a responsibility to go after the Bible. You might be thinking, “I thought you said we should receive it, as if the Bible comes to me?” Yes, we are to receive it, but it’s not as if the Bible is like oxygen—it’s all around me, all the time, for me to breathe in whenever I want. No, the Bible is not like that. Yes, we have the Bible. God has made Himself know to us through the Bible. But, you and I need to want to hear it, and place ourselves where we can hear it. This is what I mean when I say that we should pursue the Bible. And the pursuit may not be easy. Sometimes it is difficult to organize my life around receiving the Bible, to find time to read it carefully and consistently, to hear and obey what it has to say, or to share it with others who need to hear it, too. So, we should pursue the Bible. But how? We should pursue it with delight.8 This idea is closely related to joy, as we saw above. Do I view and treat the Bible like it’s lima beans, or ice cream? This may seem like an unfair comparison. But, what does the Psalmist say? ‘I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments’ (Psalm 119:131; See also, 1 Peter 2:2). What if you don’t delight in the Bible? That’s a fair question. But, do you know that our tastes can change? Do you know that God can work in us, and we can train ourselves, to want something we didn’t want before?9 You obey God and go after His word, asking Him to change your desires, and watch Him work over time. We should also allow the Bible to dwell in us richly. This idea comes straight from our verse above (Colossians 3:16). We should welcome the Bible and make it at home in our lives. For sure, this means that we should know the Bible, and even memorize the Bible. But, it also means that we should let the Bible continually remodel our lives, with the result that what others see and hear when they interact with us is thoroughly Bible. Yes, this takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. But, it will never happen if you don’t start, today. And, all of what we’re saying comes down to this—we should be quick to do what it says.10 Again, this comes right from the Bible. James tells us of the possibility and danger of being ‘hearers only,’ and not ‘doers’ of the word (James 1:22). What if we read or hear the Bible, and even do so every day, but we don’t do what it says? James goes on to say that we are like a person who looks at their face in a mirror, simply walks away, and forgets what they saw. In other words, the Bible will be of little help to us if we hear it only, but do not do what it says. We will remain unchanged. It’s humbling, isn’t it, to look in the mirror and see ketchup on your face, or a glob of chocolate syrup on your chin? But, what’s worse is turning, walking away, and doing nothing about the ketchup or chocolate. So, it is with us, if we are not careful to be both hearers and doers of the Bible.
This is what the Bible teaches about…the Bible!
1 James 1: 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
2 James 1: 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (The context of receiving the implanted word—the Bible—includes being quick to hear.)
3 Luke 10: 38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
4 James 1: 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (Yes, this verse again! Meekness, here, means humility.)
5 Romans 12: 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
6 Psalm 119: 111 Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. (See also, Psalm 119:162)
7 Philippians 4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
8 Psalm 1: 1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (See also, Psalm 119:14, 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, 174)
9 Ephesians 4: 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (See also, Psalm 37:4)
10 James 1: 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.